Hare Krishna monk meets all walks of life on pilgrimage

Swami Bhaktimarga begins his day at 4 a.m. sharp.

He dons his salmon-coloured robes, slips on a pair of brown Crocs and heads out on the road.
The Hare Krishna monk is in the middle of his third trek across Canada, a distance that totals about 7,800 kilometres.

Walking about 40 kilometres a day, the trip will take him about six months to complete his journey from Victoria, B.C. to Cape Spear, Newfoundland.

“People are curious – they are fascinated by a monk walking on the side of the road,” says the 54-year-old yesterday as he sits on a wooden chair outside the Hare Krishna temple on Somerset St. East, the summer sun gleaming off his hairless scalp.

“True, it’s quite different than how a lot of people live life. It’s a nomadic lifestyle, but you have a lot of time for reflection.”

The big question is, why? Aside from raising money for or drawing attention to a cause, why would anyone want to walk across the country once, let alone three times?

The answer is perhaps not so simple. The swami – who joined the Hare Krishas in 1973, and was known as John Vis – says his reasons include his deep respect for nature, an attempt to improve his health and, lastly, because he’s on a pilgrimage.

“Most people have causes. This is a different thing. It’s reflective walking.” He says some of his favourite moments on the road have happened when strangers stop to talk to him.

“Most of Canada is not used to seeing a monk way out in the boonies,” Swami Bhaktimarga says quietly, smiling. “But I have met some amazing people along the way.”

Behind him, Billy, a vivid green parrot who accompanies the swami on his treks, screeches, “Hello! Hello!” His other travelling companions are Hare Krishna members Doug Kretchner and Yovany Cabanas, who is visiting from Cuba.

Public donations and support from Hare Krishna temples finance their expenses while they’re on the road. Swami Bhaktimarga says he’s enjoyed each walking adventure more than the last.

“It really gets better and better each time,” he says. “Canada really is opening up to alternative forms of life, and I can see a marked difference over the years.”

As part of his faith, the swami is celibate, doesn’t gamble, avoids drinking and is follows a strict lacto-vegetarian diet. He generally camps along his way, although sometimes spends the night at the homes of people he meets along the way. One of the biggest challenges, however, has to do with his feet.

“Sometimes my feet can really hurt,” he says. “The Crocs help because they are airy and comfortable.”

His leg muscles also have a tendency to seize up. Sometimes, it’s gotten so bad he’s had to use a walking stick and only walk a couple of kilometres on some days. Another issue is the roads he has to walk beside, many of them with steep gravel shoulders.

“Some of the slopes are really difficult,” he says. “I wish there was a sidewalk across Canada.”

Every time the swami walks across the country, he chooses a different route, zig-zagging any way he can. He says many people simply don’t realize how much walking can clear a person’s head and build up sensitivity.

“You really notice all the small things around you. It’s a bit sad how many people don’t walk and don’t take care of their own health.” He says he hopes that by walking across Canada, other Canadians will follow his example and think about walking more themselves.

“Just put some shoes on your feet and get out the door,” says Swami Bhaktimarga. “Walk easy. And just keep walking.”

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